Something Small & Beautiful

Chester 1 034

deborah allen, heather rankin & andrea lee norwood

Since at least Oedipus Rex playwrights have been using the theatre as a means to contend with larger than life myths, big concepts, sweeping themes and imposing figures, but Cape Breton’s own multi-award winning playwright Daniel MacIvor’s newest play is a meditation on Something Small.

A small town. A small boy. A small present. The struggle against small minds. In a small Nova Scotian town Patricia Branch, an affluent retired schoolteacher from the city, collides with lifelong residents Birdy and Dell just as each of them face a myriad of unfamiliar and unexpected challenges. While many of these challenges can be perceived as small: Patricia’s inflamed hand, Birdy’s feelings of anxious loneliness and Dell’s young son’s desire to change his name, they are, in fact, indicative of something much larger bubbling beneath the surface. Here Daniel MacIvor is invading the crevices of the subtleties of the human experience and exploring their often mammoth consequences.

Dame Deborah Allen plays Patricia with the utmost in propriety, culture and the authority of a schoolteacher. She has a bit of the dark, cynical, intellectual markings of urban life upon her, which makes her a fish out of water in her new neighborhood. She also is fighting a harsh battle against her aging body and often her frustrations with her own limitations are misplaced. Tightly wound and carefully guarded, it is fascinating to watch Allen reveal the various layers and facets of Patricia’s personality as Birdy, her housekeeper, inadvertently invades her private space again and again. Allen gives a beautifully commanding performance full of moments of honesty and delight and Patricia Branch is a character that reminds us how much we are missing by having so few interesting leading female characters over 50 in the Canadian Theatre.

Heather Rankin plays Birdy, who has been so shattered by the loss of her husband that she clings to anything within her control and ability to fix in attempt to restore order to her life now rendered unfamiliar. Rankin is the comic heart of the piece as Birdy’s good intentions so often go awry, both with her daughter Dell and with Patricia. As in MacIvor’s earlier play Bingo, Rankin’s delivery of MacIvor’s funniest lines is always pitch perfect. Yet, Birdy is also the most obvious in her vulnerabilities of the three women and it’s incredible to see Rankin go from eliciting throes of laughter from the audience to breaking their hearts in only a slight shift. Through Birdy we see that often it is the small words that can have the most devastating impact.

Andrea Lee Norwood, expertly dressed by Janet MacLellan, is Dell, a woman still inhabiting the remnants of her days as a Goth teenager, treading down an unconventional career path and doing her best to raise her young sons with compassion, acceptance, love and the guidance they need to survive the often brutal contemporary world. Norwood oscillates beautifully between behaving like a sullen child with Birdy and showing strength and maturity when advocating as a mother in her conversations with Patricia. This is nicely mirrored by Rankin, who becomes the pouty child with Patricia and asserts herself clearer at home with her daughter. Norwood’s careful manoeuvring between Dell’s prickly outer shell and the genuine tenderness she exhibits once it’s gone, once again highlight how poignant the small moments in life can be.

MacIvor’s greatest accomplishment as a director here is his expert use of silence. In a play that explores the subtle and the small, often it is the wordless moments that convey much more than speech. The silence also makes great use of Heather Rankin’s talent for hilarious facial expressions. A play without his signature monologues directed to the audience, MacIvor creates characters here who often are trapped by their inability to use language as effectively, poetically or intellectually as they may like. A mislaid word can become a weapon with the power to destroy a relationship, while the opposite is also true, a small gesture of kindness can give someone whose days were bleak an unexpectedly nice afternoon.

If Bingo was MacIvor’s quest for a “happily ever after” Something Small is a celebration of the compromises in kindness and friendship that make imperfect situations a little more bearable and the realization that often the solution to something that seems very big is something just as small.

Something Small plays at Chester Playhouse (22 Pleasant Street, Chester, Nova Scotia) August 7th- 10th at 8:00pm and August 10th at 2:00pm. Tickets are $18.00-$28.00. For more information or to book your tickets please visit this website or call the Box Office at 902.275.3933 or 1.800.363.7529. 

Three Big Stars in Something Small

Something Small

andrea lee norwood, heather rankin & deb allen
photo by janet e. maclellan
 

After his critically acclaimed play Bingo delighted audiences at Neptune Theatre and his captivating one-man show (created with Daniel Brooks), This is What Happens Next, graced Eastern Front Theatre’s season last year, world-renowned playwright/actor/director Daniel MacIvor brings a brand new play, Something Small, to Nova Scotian audiences this August. The play has a star studded cast including Dame Deborah Allen, Heather Rankin and Andrea Lee Norwood. I was thrilled to sit and chat with these three lovely ladies at the Living Room in Halifax on Saturday afternoon. Here’s how that went!    

Amanda Campbell (AC): Would you please tell the TWISI readers a little bit about yourselves and your careers in the theatre?

Deborah Allen (DA): I’ve been working in theatre since the 1960s. I started as a teenager and worked here and elsewhere and came back. My home base is Halifax now, but I do a lot of character work for stage, film, TV and radio.

Andrea Lee Norwood (ALN): I am an actor… pauses to think for a moment

AC: You won a Merritt Award….

ALN: I did. Once upon a time I won a Merritt Award for playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker at Neptune in 2006. I’ve been acting professionally for about ten years. I do plays. I’ve worked all over the province. I’ve toured with Mermaid Theatre doing their puppetry shows. The last couple of years I’ve started to do a little bit of film here and there. (Andrea’s film Bunker 6 will be screened as part of the Atlantic Film Festival in September).

Heather Rankin (HR): I’m from the band formerly known as The Rankin Family. Laughter. Cheers from Deb and Andrea. Most recently in the theatre community here I was in Bingo at Neptune Theatre and I feel very fortunate to get to work again with Daniel (MacIvor) and these two fine actresses.

AC: Do you recall your first experience or introduction to Daniel MacIvor? Either the man, the work or the myth?

DA: I’m trying to remember which one I saw first. I saw him performing one of his own pieces. Was it House? Yeah. It was House. I particularly remember his performance. Any time I have the opportunity, I will watch him on stage because he is fascinating.

ALN:  Before I had taken the Pre-Professional Training Program at Neptune or done any kind of professional work I saw one of the Dal[housie] Productions and they had done You Are Here. That must have been 2002? I remember being quite struck by it, especially because, it’s sad that this has to be a thing, but he writes women well. I remember being struck by that and being like, “Oh! A woman on stage talking and doing things and she’s not just talking about her relationship with a man! Awesome!” I remember really enjoying it.

AC: That was the first MacIvor I saw too.

ALN: Yeah!

DA: He gets the voice. He really gets inside people’s heads. As in our piece, it is three very different women and he does that successfully, I think. So, that helps us as actors too. There’s a lot of good stuff to mine there.

HR: During the years that I was making music and touring I didn’t get to the theatre very often and I had not been introduced to Daniel’s plays at theatre school. But, I had always heard whisperings of Daniel MacIvor and my introduction to him was the film Marion Bridge. I had a small part in that film and then [being cast in] Bingo. Then I made sure that I read all his plays. It’s hard not to be enamored with him because he is just so very gifted.

AC: He IS. Can you talk a bit about this new play Something Small and the characters that you play?

DA: Don’t give anything away!

ALN: The basics is that we have Deb’s character who is a widow, who is well to do and has moved from the city to the country to a large home because her health is failing somewhat, so she needs to hire a housekeeper to help her keep up this big house, which is the style that she’s used to. So, she hires Heather’s character-

HR: Birdy

ALN: Birdy.

DA: It’s interesting because I’m a difference in status person who gets parachuted into this community and it’s like one of those “Come From Away” people arrive and how is she going to be received? “Am I going to like it here?” And what happens through the play will tell you how it goes for her. It tells a good story, but we’re not going to tell it yet because you have to come see it! The 7th to the 10th at Chester Playhouse!

AC: Yes! That was a good plug! (To Andrea) So who do you play, missy?

ALN: And I play Dell who is Birdy’s daughter. We’re living together. I’ve moved back in with my mother with my two young children. It’s just me, there’s no father in the picture. And we-

HR: Have an interesting dynamic.

ALN: Yes! And the dynamics grow and change. And our two characters meet Deb’s character, Patricia-

HR: I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding that happens-

DA: In the Getting To Know You time. But, it turns out- the positive conclusion is that it’s good for everybody. Everybody’s a winner in this play.

ALN: Also, everyone is sort of a different person with someone else. For most of the play, but for one scene, the scenes are just between two characters. So, you get to see how my character behaves when she’s with her mother and then how differently she behaves when she’s with Patricia.

AC: Oh, that’s interesting!  How is it for you playing a mother?

ALN: It’s wonderful. Not that I am a mother, but so much, the majority of my career, I’ve been playing kids and playing teenagers. It’s nice to play an adult, which is what I am.

AC: You are.

ALN: It’s difficult to play something that I’m not. In fact, even when I was a teenager I didn’t really feel like a teenager- to some extent.

AC: You were like a teenager in a Daniel MacIvor play.

ALN: Yes. An Old Soul. It’s a pleasure to get to play an adult with adult motivations.

AC: That’s lovely. I like that a lot.

ALN: Me too. Laughs

AC: How about you, Heather? What’s it like playing the mother of an adult?

HR: It’s a little bit challenging. I like to be in the child role. Laughter. In my real life I think I have been for a lot. You know, working with my family and that whole dynamic… I think for a long time I’ve been in the situation where I’m very much a follower… so it’s a challenge. But, I’m enjoying it.

AC: You touched on how well Daniel writes female characters and I’m struck by how this play features an all-female cast. A lot of MacIvor plays are either entirely female or entirely male- so I was just wondering if any of you would like to speak to what it’s like working in an all female cast. It shouldn’t be a rare occurrence, but it still is, and it’s interesting that the play comes from a male playwright.

DA: It provides a different objectivity because it’s a male voice and trying to interpret the women. Yeah. It may be one of the things that attracted me to doing the piece just because I think these are three lovely roles for women. I thought this was a good opportunity to explore this particular woman and this triangle of women. It’s a neat study, I think.

HR: Yeah, he has written this play about three women- each from a different generation all facing their own set of challenges-

DA: It pits people together who otherwise might not have met, but the way our story unfolds they come together and it’s a really interesting chemistry that happens. From the women we see at the beginning to the end of the play, we see how their lives are changed and what they each get [from one another].

HR: And it sort of gives you an insight into life and how we can meet someone and perceive them as being a certain way when, in fact, we all have many faces and we all wear different masks in different situations and you see this evolution of these three people relating with one another through the story.

DA: It’s an interesting analogy to how Heather, Andrea and I are approaching our work here because we haven’t all worked together before so, in a way, it’s kind of the same story. I’ve worked with Andrea before. I’ve only worked with Heather for about two minutes. So, we’re kind of finding out about each other and our characters in the same process. So, it’s a neat exploration. Deb shrugs

AC: Theatre is often heralded as being about BIG concepts, BIG ideas and tackling BIG subjects, but this play is called Something Small. What do you think the allure is to the small in this play?

DA: Maybe we alluded to it before, but just small gestures and small things that happen in daily life and how little things can change people’s lives. That’s what we see happen in the play. People’s trajectories take a different turn because they meet Birdy or they meet Dell. I, [Patricia], didn’t know I was going to have any of these experiences when I came to this small crossroads, which is a beautiful place but I don’t know anybody, but then it changes my life. I could have just stayed in retirement mode and had a very different kind of experience where I was. [The move] has opened a big window for me.

HR: I think “Something Small” is alluding to many things on different levels. Many of which I think are better left to be revealed during the play. But, it is often the simple things that can reach a person.

AC: What has it been like working on a new work with the playwright in the room and having the playwright as your director?

ALN: I think we’re all aware that we don’t have a lot of time and the more big, big, big changes that get made, the harder it is on everyone. The work seems quite finished, to me. We haven’t made a lot of big changes.

DA: And it’s not every day that you get to have the playwright on the end of the phone-

ALN: The insight that he has into the intentions is SO HELPFUL. Huge relieved exhale of breath. REALLY GOOD.

AC: Yeah. He’s pretty smart.

ALN: DANIEL MACIVOR IS VERY SMART.

Laughter

ALN: He is though.

AC: I find often, because Daniel is so prolific, that his new work gets compared to his older work in terms of how they are similar to one another. This interests me less than the question of what is new in each piece. In your experience, from your perspective, what is new or different in this MacIvor play?

ALN: There are almost no direct address monologues.

AC: OH. That is very different.

ALN: Yeah. So, that’s pretty new.

HR: No direct address monologues YET. He’s still writing.

AC: You have how many days of rehearsal left?

ALN: There were a few in an earlier draft but he changed it. The next draft out they were all disseminated back into the dialogue.

AC: I’m always wary of quoting things Daniel has previously said, but he HAS said (sort of jokingly) before that in his evolution as a playwright, he’s going backwards. Normally a writer might start out writing very conventional plays and then build up to being really avant-garde; but he started out really avant-garde and is working his way back to plays that are more “conventional.” I think he said that Bingo was like, he wouldn’t have used this word, but his “masterpiece,” as far as writing something “conventional” goes… but you can’t really hold on to a masterpiece if you’re going to keep writing!

ALN: [Bingo] better not be his masterpiece!!

AC: No. At the time he was saying that Bingo was sort of his pinnacle of “mainstream theatre” I think then that Bingo was the last play he’d written to date. He’s still continuing to evolve as a playwright, obviously. Or “devolving,” if he’s going backwards maybe. laughs.

HR: Did you ask him that question? What’s different about Something Small?

AC: I didn’t. I haven’t spoken to him about this one, to be honest. I would like to.

HR: I would be interested to hear his response.

ALN: I like that there’s no direct address monologues. I think that the dialogue is very strong. I prefer this version. I can see why he made the changes he did. I think this is definitely the stronger draft.

AC: It must be interesting too, when you’re working on a new piece, to see the evolution of it because you feel like you have an idea of the process behind it.

ALN: Yeah!

HR: Yeah, and some of the back story of the characters was in the original draft-

AC: Oh, so that’s helpful.

HR: Oh GOD yeah!

AC: Do you think MacIvor’s work has a specific appeal to East Coast audiences because he is from Nova Scotia?

HR: The play is based in rural Nova Scotia, so that would have some appeal.

ALN: It’s nice to see your home reflected in a piece of theatre. But also, it all just takes place in some living rooms so that’s something that-

HR: Is relatable to anyone-

ALN: Living anywhere.

AC: How exciting or important is it for you as an actor to get to premiere a character in a new work?

HR: It’s a good way to get your feet wet in the business because you’re not being compared with anyone else. Whose done a better job with the role or how ridiculous your interpretation or embodiment of the character is…

AC: Right. It’s not like Hamlet.

ALN: Yeah. Laughter

HR: That would be SCARY. It’s kind of a privilege, isn’t it? To be the birthmother to a character.

ALN: YES. It definitely is. You’re right; it doesn’t come with any baggage.

AC: You’re also the FIRST

ALN: The first!

AC: You were the first person to play this part.

HR: Ever.

ALN: Yeah. It’s nice. I hadn’t thought of that. Why hadn’t I thought of that? That’s so nice. I like it.

AC: I like it too. And it’s exciting too that it’s happening HERE. In Chester. At Chester Playhouse. August 7-10th.

I hope you like it too. Go buy your tickets right now at this website before it all sells out.

Something Small plays at Chester Playhouse (22 Pleasant Street, Chester, Nova Scotia) August 7th- 10th at 8:00pm and August 10th at 2:00pm. Tickets are $18.00-$28.00. For more information or to book your tickets please visit this website or call the Box Office at 902.275.3933 or 1.800.363.7529. 

Fig Newtons & The Fountain of Youth With Michael Melski

melski2

michael melski

Michael Melski has a penchant for hats. I remark this to him as we sit down for beers (him) and Spuds (me) at the Foggy Goggle in Halifax after the second day of rehearsal for his newest play Eighteen, a co-production between Eastern Front and Neptune Theatre opening on May 2, 2013. Eighteen centers on an elderly couple who find the Fountain of Youth at a Florida golf course and suddenly wake up to find that they are eighteen again and faced with the adage, “If you could do it all over again, would you do it differently?”

It seems that Melski’s name has been everywhere these days. He has just come off seeing his critically acclaimed film Charlie Zone play to enthusiastic and full houses in Halifax, Sydney and Toronto. It was just announced that his play Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad will open the Neptune Studio Season in October, starring the hilarious and charming Heather Rankin and Kevin Kincaid. Eighteen is the second of his plays to grace the Studio after The Fly Fisher’s Companion was an audience favourite there in 2011. Everything, it seems, is coming up Melski.

Since I am more familiar with his films Touch & Go (2003), Growing Op (2008) and Charlie Zone (2011) I decided it was best to begin there.

Amanda Campbell (AC): How did you get into doing film? I feel like that’s not what most playwrights do. It’s kind of weird. In a really good way.

Michael Melski (MM): The beginning was always film. My dad was a big movie buff. Theatre happened a little bit by accident. I applied to York Film School and got accepted when I was eighteen and my parents convinced me, I was very close to my grandfather and his health was not great at that point, they convinced me to stay close to home for my first year.

AC: Yeah, my parents did the same thing.

MM: So I went to Kings for Foundation Year and I loved it. I acted a bit in High School, but I really got into acting at Kings. I played The Bear in Chekhov’s The Bear in the first semester and then I got cast as Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. I was learning a ton in Dal Theatre classes and really had an amazing eye-opening experience in FYP, the Foundation Year. Then, when it came time to go, I absolutely did not want to leave Kings. In the second year I started writing my own work and directing my own work in the Pit. By third year I was the Society President and I did two new plays that year and by the fourth year I started the first Festival of New Work. There were six plays; I think I did two or three that year. So, I left with seven plays under my belt, so I had a jumpstart. I was always going to come back to film. Some of the plays sucked, believe me, I was there. But some of them were… promising. But, I mean, you’re finding your voice at that point. You have to expect to suck a little. I was always writing. I formed a theatre company in Toronto for awhile. I came back to Halifax to put on the first Halifax Theatre Explosion in 1993: the precursor to the Pop Explosion and all the other Explosion Festivals. It was meant to be a winter Fringe Festival. It took place at City Centre Atlantic- in the mall. The first version of The Fly Fisher’s Companion happened there when I was twenty-four. Starring John Dartt who ended up playing the part at Neptune. I directed Shaun Majumder in his first play at the same festival. We’re still friends.

AC: That’s awesome.

MM: Then I went back to Toronto and went to film school at Ryerson for a year and wrote Caribou, which ran at the Clinton. That was the first one where people really started to perk up and like, take notice. I went back to Halifax and did my first and only Fringe Festival- Joyride-

AC: What year was that?

MM: 1994. It was the big hit of the Festival and Glen Walton who had been at the Film Centre saw it and said, “This has got so much film potential, you should adapt it and apply to the Film Centre.” And at Ryerson everyone was talking about how, “When I graduate after four years, I’m going to go to the Film Centre.” And I was like “What is this Film Centre?” I didn’t know it was the Norman Jewison Film School- very hard to get in to and Glen’s like, “you should adapt your play into a screenplay and apply.” So, I blue-skied it and said “Why not?” and I did and I got in. And Joyride was published that year. It was sort of an explosion after a long time of working really hard. It was a nice perfect storm. Suddenly, I had opportunities in both film and theatre. I’ve never quite let either of them die. I’ve seen some of the big money in writing for television, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do, creatively. I have kept making a concerted effect to keep writing for theatre. I’ve been getting great opportunities with Eastern Front and Neptune Theatre here to develop new things. I’m super excited about the new Charles Manson story.

AC: ME TOO.

MM: It’s gonna be fun. So many good scenes. We’re going to read a bit of it at the [Eastern Front] Stages Festival.

AC: Oh good! Oh, sweet! I’m so stoked about that.

MM: It’s the kind of thing I love sinking my teeth into. It’s a good love triangle and it’s a small, contained play about big ideas. In a way Eighteen is like that. Eighteen is a little more sprawling, but it has to be, it’s a comedy, it’s fantasy, it’s fun. But Creepy and Little Manson is gonna be a real chess game, mentally and emotionally. What if you saw a monster taking shape in front of you, who was still human, part of him was human, but part of him wasn’t. What would you do about it? To me, that’s a big theme in it. I judge every idea I have now by, “is this worth spending two years on?” because that’s how long it takes. That’s how long Eighteen took from the beginning.

AC: I think that’s so important. I think it’s so important to let the work take that long, as long as it needs to, to percolate.

MM: You can’t rush. It takes a long time for a play to be good. It takes some workshopping. The cast [of Eighteen] the last two days, we finished the workshop. We have been making some tweaks, we can deepen it here- here is a laugh- we’re still finding new things.

AC: You’ve just started rehearsals, right? Yesterday?

MM: Yeah. There’s a lot. (laughs) There’s lots of characters. There’s only four actors but they are playing multiple characters. Not only does each actor have his own base character they also play another character at a different age. So, it’s a real mind-bender. The actors are having to, not just learn their own character, but also absorb a character at a different age. So, they have a lot to do. It’s good, it’s going to be very energetic and kinetic. There’s magic. There’s a real element of magic in the show- the whole Fountain of Youth. I think it’s not just light, it’s got- one thing that we’re really finding and I’m happy about is that, I think the best comedy is always rooted in character- real people- and the laughs are more palpable and resonant- and we’re really taking pains to find who those characters are and find what their pain is- what their- something that happened in their lives that they lost their appreciation of time. They lost their appreciation of the gift of what life is and its possibilities. And, in doing that, they lost the gift of being able to love each other and appreciate each other. The biggest journey of the play is for the main characters to realize what they have done and that you don’t get a second chance- you really do have to do it right the first time. And live with it. And, how do we all survive that? Our common fate is mortality, so, it’s fun, it’s nothing like anything I’ve ever done before.

AC: I does make me think, just as you’re talking, about the idea of running out of time it makes me think of Darcy in your film Touch & Go. He’s wasting time. He feels like he has endless time because he wastes it perpetually.

MM: You know, that’s true because, there is a sports theme, golf… and the character Rhys [Bevan-John] plays is a biathlete, he’s a cross country skier/ rifle shooter- he’s an Olympic prospect, so Ben [Robbie O’Neill], who once had a very promising golf career until he got married and had kids, and he has a lot of pent up resentment about destiny- he names his daughter- played by Andrea [Norwood]- after Jack Nicklaus- her name is Jackie. His life was golf and it slipped away. So, he really has some funny moments with coming to grips with that. Rhys’ character, Kent, is very, completely driven, narcissistic even, the way that athletes are in their prime. When they find the Fountain of Youth the old guy, played by Robbie [O’Neill], when they wake up, they are played by Rhys and Andrea. So, they get to extend their characters as young people. In Act II, because Rhys and Andrea are like Darcy, they’re treading water, they don’t want to give up their youth, Rhys’ character is terrified of growing old. He’s got Gerontophobia. He gets the shakes around old people. Andrea’s character, due to the loss of her brother, is terrified of children. So, they’re phobic about children and phobic about growing old. So, they’re actually trapped in this place where they don’t want to grow up. And, of course, in Act II, the reverse of what happens to the parents happens to the kids. The kids, overnight, wake up and they go from being in the prime of their lives to being seventy years old. And being forced to deal with things like, suddenly you wake up and you don’t remember your Internet password and Jackie, who is obsessed with the Internet, suddenly has to deal with Internet withdrawal. Kent’s whole Olympic career has evaporated. In a comedic way. People are forced to question what their lives are really about. What are they doing with time? There’s a fascinating study I read, about how 18 year olds are living the same lives as 80 year olds because of the Internet. Social Media. They have virtual friends, that they never see, they inhabit small rooms and they are deeply depressed and lonely. Which is the way senior citizens are. It’s really interesting. There are so many interesting angles into it. The older couple get the chance to do it all again, with all their experience, to be young again. But it is still really easy to screw up.

AC: Well, sure. Otherwise senior citizens would just be doing everything perfect all the time.

MM: Exactly. They would be so wise about everything. But, everything- even their diets change- when the young people are suddenly seventy they’re afraid to go outside because somebody might recognize them, so they’re in this position of “we don’t want to leave the house because we’re ugly and old now” and they can’t even eat the same things. They eat through all their groceries, without ever leaving the house, and they have one Chimichanga  left, which they eat, and it absolutely destroys their bowels. So, then there’s a scene of them going to Pete’s Frootique and shopping for stewed prunes and Fig Newtons and they LOVE it, it’s like they’re adapting to a new reality, which they never respected.

AC: It’s interesting because my grandmother is 92 and now she is eating the most like a 21 year old college kid than she has in her entire life because she doesn’t want to cook anymore and, sometimes we bring in healthy stuff, but sometimes we’ll just pick stuff up for her and I will ask, “What should we get?” And she will be like, “Let’s get pizza! Let’s get cheeseburgers!”

MM: Oh, that’s great. That’s awesome. It’s so nice when people don’t act their age.

AC: Yeah. And she grew up in a small town on Prince Edward Island in the 1920s, so when she was a teenager she was likely eating very healthy.

MM: Probably told to.

AC: Yeah. And she would have been eating food her neighbors were growing fresh. They couldn’t just go down to Superstore or eat in at Pizza Delight. So, now she’s making up for it.

MM: I wish more seniors were like that.

AC: But sometimes your body, as you get older, is like, “Shut this down!”

MM: Well yeah, Kent has to deal with waking up with an erection every morning to being completely impotent and having to go on those drugs. There’s a funny scene in the pharmacy where things go off the rails. There’s a lot of sex in this play, I am realizing. A lot of implied sex. Sex is something that, when you are suddenly eighteen, you suddenly start to feel those things again. Even though this couple has been so pissed off at each other and have fallen out of love- how much appreciation do we place on physical beauty? Suddenly they are really attracted to one another and they see what they have lost and forgotten about- so there’s some fun about that. I think it’s going to be a fun show. It’s selling really well, so we’re happy about that.

You can catch all the implied sex, the Fig Newtons and the Fountain of Youth at Neptune Theatre’s Scotiabank Studio Theatre (1593 Argyle Street) in Michael Melski’s Eighteen, beginning April 30th. The shows run Tuesday-Friday at 7:30pm, with shows at 4:00pm and 8:30 on Saturdays and 2:00pm and 7:30pm on Sundays. Tickets are $17.00-$42.00 depending on seating. April 30th is a Pay What You Can Performance. May 2nd is Opening Night. To purchase tickets or for more information please visit this website or call 902.429.7070.

Beowulf: Pluck, Passion & Puppets

jeremy webb

 

There is a theatre company in a very small town called Canning, Nova Scotia that everyone in this country should know about. It is called Two Planks and a Passion Theatre and its committed to producing and developing theatre that is challenging, provocative and that often mixes Canadian theatre with classical texts. Their work is presented as site-specific productions, known as Theatre off the Grid, outside amid seemingly endless trees and rolling hills at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts. This summer they bring to life Rick Chafe’s adaptation of Beowulf.

Beowulf is an epic poem wildly considered to be one of the most important from Anglo Saxon literature. It was written by an anonyms Anglo Saxon poet between the 8th and early 11th century. It tells the story of Beowulf, the King of the Geats, who slays two giants and then takes on a dragon. This story has been told in a great number of different adaptations in novels, films, theatre, opera and graphic novels and seems to be a tale that has especially captured the imaginations of artists of various disciplines within the last fifty years. Rick Chafe’s adaptation is especially exciting because it takes the story in a fascinating, and distinctly modern, new direction.

At Ross Creek, the story of Beowulf begins in the middle of the original poem, after he has already killed Grendel, the Giant and Grendel’s mother and has been ruling the Geats for fifty years. Chafe sets the stage with hundreds of enemy forces approaching, forcing Beowulf to prepare his people for a wildly unbalanced war to protect their homeland and their honour. Into this fray arrives a girl named Lyra, who claims to be Beowulf’s daughter and then comes the news of an advancing dragon, livid after having his lair raided by the King’s Second in Command. All this within the first four minutes of the play, Chafe has given us stakes that could not be higher, intrigue, mystery, adventure and perhaps even the potential for romance.

It is clear that Chafe has written this play specifically tailored to the natural habitat of the performance space of Ross Creek and Ken Schwartz’s direction certainly enhances the experience. This is one example of theatre that works in perfect harmony with its surroundings, rather than being imposed overtop of it, and therefore it is one production that would lose much of its magic if performed anywhere else. The stage is set up with audience on both sides of the action, but Schwartz shrewd ability to keep everyone in constant motion and to ensure that everyone within view is always one hundred percent engaged and invested in their aspect of the story, that one never notices actors’ backs or cranes to see the source of the action. It is always all around, immediate and vigorous.

The cast of Beowulf boasts of a great many of Nova Scotia’s most beloved and brilliant actors and they, along with the impressive talents of some fresh new faces, certainly are the magic weavers of the evening. Jeff Schwager and Alexis Milligan, as a young peasant couple (Haki and Sissa respectively) expecting their first child, are immediate standouts. Their hilarious rapport with one another is nuanced and heart rending and their chemistry is alluring. As Sissa, Milligan is gutsy and practical, refreshingly, not at all settling into the gender stereotypes of the story’s time. There is also a strong sense of playfulness and mischief about her, which comes to the apex when portraying the Giant’s Mother in a re-enactment of Beowulf’s epic victories. Burgandy Code gives two fierce and mesmerizing performances, Andrea Lee Norwood shines particularly bright as a young lad vying to be the Army Cook but doomed, it seems perhaps, to be a coward. Rhys Bevan-John gives great dignity and much ego to Drengi, who incurs the wrath of the dragon.

Benjamin Irvine plays Halfburrin, Drengi’s younger brother, with a beautiful mixture of gentle charm and gritty determination. Daniel Lillifield plays Gautr, Halfburrin and Drengi’s father, who is caught, heartbreakingly, in the archaic ways of old. Lillifield gives a really haunting performance of this stubborn patriarch. Jamie Konchak is full of spunk and strength as Lara, once again bringing a lovely, refreshing modern humanity and a heroine to a very old, and patriarchal, story. Lara is the sort of girl who wants to have it all and kick ass doing it, which makes her a great role model for kids of all ages. Her relationship with Jeremy Webb’s formidable Beowulf is complex and lovely and it roots this story ardently as one about the relationship between parents and their children, the past and the present, and most importantly, how the children must forge forward in progress for the benefit of the future.

Beowulf plays at the Ross Creek Centre for the Performing Arts (555 Ross Creek Road, Canning, Nova Scotia) until August 6th. For more information or to book your tickets please visit this website.